Tory policies are making it clear: Refugees are not welcome
Hamidullah Khan, a refugee from Afghanistan, had been living in London with his family for almost a year when he was told by the UK Home Office that he had to leave the capital for Leeds. The reason? The hotel that he and his family had been staying in was deemed too expensive and apparently one in Leeds would be cheaper.
Khan is just one of hundreds of refugees and their families who were placed in such hotels by the Home Office, who have built lives in London, found jobs, schools, and settled in only to be uprooted and sent into a completely new environment.
This isn’t abnormal in Brexit Britain. In fact, it is the point of Brexit Britain.
Since Brexit, not only has the rhetoric on immigration of the UK government shifted radically to the right, but policy is following suit.
''The fact that the government provides no other means for migrants to ‘officially’ apply for asylum other than reaching the UK is not stupidity, it’s a calculated attempt to criminalise asylum more broadly. Despite condemnation by the UN of the “cruel, ineffective and unlawful” policy, Sunak listed small boat pushbacks in his top 5 priorities for 2023.''
Only a few months ago, Home Secretary Suella Braverman referred to migrants arriving across the channel as “an invasion on our Southern coast”. Braverman went on to link asylum seekers to “criminal gangs”. These remarks come just one day after a far-right terrorist attack on a migrant processing centre in Dover.
Braverman’s use of words like “invaders” is part and parcel of the dehumanisation of refugees and asylum seekers. The government’s anti-immigration agenda is twofold: the first part of it is to make life for existing refugees as difficult and as miserable as possible to either move them on or deter others from coming to the UK, while the second is to create Fortress Britannia – a place where refugees are simply not welcome.
This is clear to see in the notorious Kafkaesque ‘Rwanda plan’, which would see asylum seekers in the UK deported to Rwanda, a country where conditions for refugees are often brutal and even deadly. The plan was temporarily suspended by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) but was eventually legally cleared by the British High Court. The government then responded to the intervention of the ECHR by including a clause in its controversial Bill of Rights Bill that would instruct British courts to override the ECHR in the future.
The Nationality and Borders Act of 2022 has made the standards for seeking asylum exceptionally difficult and unfair, while giving border authorities more power to pushback ‘small boat’ arrivals. Asylum seekers can and will be, in the words of PM Rishi Sunak, “detained and swiftly returned” with the message being to migrants that “if you enter the UK illegally, you should not be able to remain.”
The fact that the government provides no other means for migrants to ‘officially’ apply for asylum other than reaching the UK is not stupidity, it’s a calculated attempt to criminalise asylum more broadly. Despite condemnation by the UN of the “cruel, ineffective and unlawful” policy, Sunak listed small boat pushbacks in his top 5 priorities for 2023.
Within the UK’s migrant “processing centres”, conditions have also deteriorated significantly since Brexit, with migrants facing inhumane, unhygienic, unlawful and even deadly conditions.
The government has manufactured consent to systematically dehumanise, criminalise and exploit immigrants. One of the reasons that Viktor Orban has managed to turn Hungary into a deportation machine, was that the opposition often consented to his paradigm-shifting policies as misguided attempts to ‘triangulate’ to win support from his base. The net result was simply that Orban could act with ease when it came to eroding democracy and targeting migrants.
In the UK, we have seen similar approaches from the official opposition. Labour leader Keir Starmer, for example, informally works with the Tories to maintain a conspiracy of silence regarding the catastrophic economic effects of Brexit. On the matter of immigration, Labour has accepted the end of freedom of movement and, at times, appealing to the Tory-created mythic dynamic of the 'Red Wall', has tried to sound more Tory than the Tories.
When addressing the NHS’ many problems, Starmer blamed it on “recruiting too many people from oversees”, adding more recruitment should come from the indigenous population.
Anti-migrant action from illiberal and authoritarian regimes often serves as the first attack on human rights in general, as is the case in Orban’s Hungary. And though I’m not claiming that the Tories will go down an identical path, their attack on migrants has coincided with them to trying to move against the Human Rights Act, curtailing the right to protest, overriding self-determination and democracy in Scotland and deterring minorities and working class people from voting.
Clearly, the UK’s democracy is in crisis, and it is being weakened in the post-Brexit political landscape of xenophobic majoritarianism and right-wing populism.
It ought to go without saying that we're living in an era where there has never been more need for progressive and humane policies towards migrants. The recent devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria is another grim reminder of the necessity of humanitarianism in migrant policy. As it currently stands, any refugee fleeing the multiple tragedies in that region will be met with vicious hostility in Europe and the UK, where its been made clear that all migrants, whether fleeing war or affected by natural disasters, are not seen as victims and survivors who must be helped, but as illegitimate "invaders".
Sam Hamad is a writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow focusing on totalitarian ideologies.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.